signpostA lot of you will be receiving your score from the October LSAT very soon. For those finalizing their list of potential law schools we wanted to do a “Where Should I Apply to Law School” post to help keep you on top of recent trends that might affect where you apply. Particularly, we’ll discuss how the ongoing drop in applications to law school might influence your applications strategy.

First we cover some application fundamentals. If you’re familiar with the basics, skip ahead to “Strategies.”

Reach, Safety, and Target

Usually, one should apply to some “reach” schools, a larger amount of “target schools”, and a handful of “safety schools.” “Reach” schools are ones where your numbers (LSAT and GPA) are low compared to the median numbers at that school, “target” schools are those where you numbers are about median for that school, and “safety” schools are ones where you numbers are well above median.

Now, I realize sometimes one of your numbers will be a little above the median and another will be a little below. In these cases, you LSAT score is the better guidepost, so use that to determine what category you place the school in.

If anyone needs more clarification on this process, feel free to ask, anonymously or otherwise, in the comments. We are happy to assess whether a certain school is a reach, target, or safety for you.

The Typical Approach

Unlike in undergrad applications, where matters are often less certain, with law schools your numbers are a very strong predictor of where you will or won’t get in. This means that if just getting in somewhere is your sole concern, you may not have to apply to a ton of schools.

I’ve read that the average person applies to 6 law schools. That’s a very reasonable number if you are applying to law schools that serve just one locality. In that situation you might be applying to two reaches, two targets, and two safety schools.

If you have numbers that might get you into T14 schools or those ranked just below, you are generally better off applying to more schools so as retain every potentially desirable option. A common approach for those with a high 160s or 170+ LSAT score is to blanket the T14 and also apply to a couple of safety schools in the Top 25.

Likewise, those who are looking at lower schools but are considering two or more different areas of the country should generally be applying to more than 6 schools.

“Splitters” (those with a big difference in their numbers, such as a high LSAT score and a low GPA or vice versa) and URM applicants are typically advised to apply to a larger range of schools, as their application cycles tend to be less predictable. We discuss, high LSAT/low GPA splitters more in our post on getting into law school with a low GPA.

Law School Application Strategies

With the typical approach as your guidepost, there are some modifications you might want to make:

The median LSAT and GPA numbers are falling at a large number of schools. It’s true that this is a better time than ever to get into schools that might have been considered reach schools for your numbers previously. However, I want to urge some caution for students eager to go to the best ranked school they get into, especially if it will cost you more.

Remember that sliding medians reflect the fact that fewer and fewer people are applying to law school. Fewer students are applying as a result of a growing belief that law school is a less valuable investment now than it was in the past. This means that getting into a more prestigious school now does not necessarily mean you are better off than you would be had you gotten into a slightly lower ranked school back when employment prospects were better.

What’s more, some schools are sliding much more than others. Be wary when a school is much, much easier to get into than it was 3 years ago (for a closer look at once such case, see our post: the kind of law school not to go to right now).

What I am encouraging you to do is disregard prestige and analyze schools’ costs and benefits as dispassionately as possible. All else being equal, always try to go to the school that gives you the best employment prospects relative to the cost. With this goal in mind, apply to a broad range of schools to increase your chances of getting good scholarship offers.

Maximizing Your Chances For a Scholarship

Typically, your odds are better of getting scholarship offers at target and safety schools. I suggest that we abandon the term ‘safety schools’ altogether and start calling them “scholarship mining schools” to put a better spin on it. This is because I worry that too many people are averse to going to a ‘safety’ school, when in reality it’s commonly a student’s best option. Certainly, right now, almost everyone should be applying to several schools that they have really strong numbers for. Here’s why:

Scholarship offers are somewhat less predictable than acceptances, even when you are well above a school’s medians. As a simple matter of probability, applying to a lot of schools ups your chance to get a good scholarship offer. As importantly, more offers put you in a better position to negotiate aggressively for scholarships.

We wrote recently that it’s especially important right now to recognize your enhanced bargaining position. Law school applicants are enjoying a buyers market — schools want you to come, badly. As a result, many law schools have greatly increased the amount of scholarship money they are offering. Even if you don’t take direct advantage of it, a scholarship offer from a school you don’t want to go to might be leveraged into a similar offer from a school you do want to attend. For more advice on negotiating for scholarships read our post on it here.

Reaching For The Top

Certainly do reach for higher ranked schools where job prospects remain very strong. Employment prospects at t14 schools remain fairly strong, especially at the top 6 schools (Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Columbia, Chicago, and NYU). These schools may be worth it to attend even at a substantially higher price tag than schools below. The drawback of course, is that applicant numbers and LSAT/GPA medians haven’t fallen very much for these schools. As we reported recently, they remain very hard to get into.

That said, they have gotten slightly less selective (Harvard for example now has a 16% acceptance rate, a big jump from their 11% acceptance rate in 2010). If you have numbers that give you even a slight chance, it’s worthwhile to try for the top.

We hope this post will help you maximize your chances of a good result if you are applying this cycle. If you have any questions at all about where to apply feel free to ask in the comments below.